Therefore, brothers and sisters, you must be patient
as you wait for the coming of the Lord.
Consider the farmer who waits patiently
for the coming of rain in the fall and spring,
looking forward to the precious fruit of the earth.
You also must wait patiently, strengthening your resolve,
because the coming of the Lord is near.
James 5.7-8, CEB
Waiting can be tough. Waiting in long lines at the grocery. Waiting with an impatient young child. Waiting for an exciting celebration. Waiting at the bedside of a loved one who is transitioning from this life to the next. Waiting for news from medical tests. Waiting for the grades to come out after a big test. Waiting…..
In Advent, we say we are waiting for the Christ Child to be born. Of course, this waiting is a metaphor because the Christ is with us even as we wait for the Christmas celebration. Still, the practice of waiting is good for our souls. We are a culture of instant gratification. So much is at our fingertips in this age of technology – information, goods and services, connection with loved ones through phone, text, and internet. It is good to be still and wait like a seed the farmer has sowed in the ground waiting for spring or fall rains. In the waiting we put down roots into the soil of our faith, not knowing what will come to fruition.
Mary said yes to the angel from God and then waited in the unknown mystery that is pregnancy for the birth of Jesus. Waiting in the unknown is part of our faith. It may feel like doubt or like God is not listening or like we are all alone. We acknowledge these feelings. They are real, but they do not get the final say. The final say is the love of God made manifest in our hearts, even in the waiting. The final say is the love of God incarnated in the Christ Child who announced to us as a man that God’s realm is among us always!
The institutional church is in a big waiting period after the changes of the pandemic. Each and every church that I know of or read about is “waiting” to see what is coming next in programming, mission and service, fellowship, worship, financial stability and staffing. The church as the Body of Christ is in a period of pregnant waiting with all the changes and pains and delights and discovery that pregnancy brings to a human body. At Plymouth we are very lucky to be welcoming new people, growing our programming with children and youth, developing new ways to be together in worship, re-inventing beloved fellowship and formation opportunities, looking towards the promise of a new settled associate minister. We are blessed!
And our blessings need the nourishment, the investment of our time, talents and treasures in the work of God through our ministries. We need to feed the soil holding the seeds of possibility in our Plymouth Body of Christ that are pregnant with new life and growing in ways we cannot yet see.
So, in this time of Advent waiting, I ask you to be still with the seed-like promises of God. How will you nurture these promises and answer their call? Answering the call to service through the ministries of our Body of Christ is nurturing the promise. Answering the call to pledge your financial resources to the work of God in the world through Plymouth’s ministries is nurturing the promise. (And our Stewardship and Budget and Finance teams are waiting for you to answer this call so we can put together a healthy budget for 2023. It takes us all to do this. It takes the village.) Answering the call to the Spirit of God deep within your heart and soul, a call to deeper relationship or new ways of living in God’s realm, is nurturing the seed-life promises of God.
With you in the waiting! Let’s see together how God’s promises unfold in the new year.
No one likes to wait. The often frustrating experience of inconvenient stasis and failed expectations of arrival can easily darken one's mood. But what if those seemingly idle moments can be a gift of the spirit in our lives? Through the prayerful discipline of the liturgical calendar year, we are called to be patient for the birth of Christ during Advent, the season of waiting. By doing so, we immerse ourselves further into the story of Jesus year to year. But perhaps a more appropriate word for waiting is preparing – to be more receptive to the love of God in this season and every one thereafter.
I am always reminded of the choral anthem "Lord, Before This Fleeting Season" by Libby Larsen at this time of year. The text by poet Mary Ann Jindra beautifully expresses the message of this fleeting mysterious season. May it make your waiting all the more worthwhile.
Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us,
Let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with Love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
And the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart.
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.*
*“Simply Celebrate You — an Advent poem” by Mary Ann Jindra
Permission to print is through Christian Copyright Solutions #11133
Mark Heiskanen is Plymouth's Dir. of Music and Organist. Learn more about him and read his weekly Music Minute here.
Advent is the season of waiting, something I’ve never been particularly fond of or adept at doing. This Advent, however, occurs in the midst of a global season of waiting. So, it is like waiting squared. Are we Christians really waiting for Jesus to return to earth in any corporeal way? Some do, some don’t. It isn’t really a big part of my theology…I figure that the historical Jesus (who lived and taught in the 1st century) gave us fairly clear instructions to be co-creators of the kingdom of God, we humans just haven’t been compliant, so far.
Is that what we’re waiting for, or is it something perhaps less dramatic, but every bit as profound? (I’ll be preaching on that this Sunday, so tune in at 10:00 or the next day on our website!)
We are waiting for a lot of other things to fall into place right now: waiting for vaccine approval…for vaccine production…for vaccine distribution… to see our friends…waiting to see our families… to be back in our church home… to sing (outside the shower and in the company of others)… to give big hugs… to venture into the store… to have a beer together at the brewpub…to go back to the gym and the pool…to start a new job after being laid off…to have some relief in making rent payments…to have a sense of normalcy in our everyday routine…to have friends over for dinner…to travel..to have the occupant of the White House admit defeat. Some time we are going to get the good news that we’ve turned the corner in dealing with Covid-19.
The pandemic has caused us to wait, but not everything has been delayed. We still have a relationship with God. We continue to worship. We continue to be in touch with family and friends, even if it’s through a phone call or a Zoom connection. We have ongoing work to do, personally and vocationally.
One of the things you may have thought you had to postpone (but that I encourage you not to delay) is the experience of joy. This is different than being happy or satisfied or contented or jovial. Joy is a deeper emotion that plays more in the heart than it does in the mind. Most of us aren’t exactly joyful that we got a new iPhone for Christmas…but we are joyful in seeing a sister or brother or child or grandchild on FaceTime or Zoom. Most of us don’t experience joy when we get a positive report card in school, but we do experience joy when we see a stunning sunrise. Where do you experience joy that wraps together wonder and love and a sense of the numinous, a glow that opens up beyond your own, individual experience?
I invite you to open your heart to the possibility of encountering joy in this season, to look for the footprints of the divine in your everyday life. And when you have that experience, to see it as a glimmer of the Christlight in your midst. And to see this as joyful good news – Joyeux Noël!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.